The Kansas City Chiefs host the Buffalo Bills in a huge AFC matchup with big-time playoff implications. Both teams are 4-1 entering play, so the winner will not only go a game ahead in the conference standings, but they’ll also hold a tiebreaker if the two teams were to finish the regular season with the same record.
For the Bills, winning this game could be a huge step towards playing all of their playoff games in Orchard Park this year. For the Chiefs, a win would solidify their attempt to make sure that the road to the Super Bowl continues to go through Arrowhead Stadium.
While the Chiefs no longer have dynamic wide receiver Tyreek Hill, they still have a phenomenal offense capable of scoring from anywhere at any time. Here are our five Chiefs to watch this week.
QB Patrick Mahomes
Until quarterback Josh Allen and the Bills move past Mahomes in the playoffs, we can continue to expect that Mahomes will be the Tom Brady to Allen’s Peyton Manning. Mahomes is absurdly good, beating blitzes and four-man rushes with deadly efficiency. Even when he starts poorly, like he did last week against the Las Vegas Raiders, he’s capable of flipping a switch and destroying his opposition. The Bills had a good plan against him last year in the regular season, as they forced him to throw underneath and take short gains all night long. He completed 33-of-54 passes for just 272 yards in that game, hitting on two touchdowns but also throwing two interceptions. The Bills need to try to keep him in the pocket while pressuring him with just the front four. The addition of edge rusher Von Miller makes that easier, but an unsung hero up front so far has been defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, who has been a tremendous upgrade over Star Lotulelei and Harrison Phillips as the one-tech tackle. If he can keep eating double-teams, that leaves less help outside for Miller—and even if they double Miller, that gives defensive tackle Ed Oliver and defensive end Greg Rousseau some tasty one-on-one matchups. Hitting Mahomes early and often while preventing him from escaping the pocket to extend plays will lead to success on defense for the Bills.
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
The big slot wideout will be covered by cornerback Taron Johnson, who is one of the league’s top slot defenders. With a receiving corps that lost Hill but still has wide receivers Mecole Hardman and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Smith-Schuster is the top dog among the receivers. He and Johnson have squared off against each other before, as Buffalo played the Pittsburgh Steelers a few times in big spots over the last few years while Smith-Schuster was catching passes from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. If Johnson can contain Smith-Schuster one-on-one, it will make the rest of the defense much more efficient.
TE Travis Kelce
It’s not that I’m not worried about Kansas City’s running game, as Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon are both dangerous, but the Chiefs’ passing game is just so elite that it’s impossible to ignore. Kelce has destroyed Buffalo over the last few years, catching 32 passes for 336 yards and six touchdowns in his last four games against Buffalo. You have to go back to a 2017 meeting between these teams to find the last game where Kelce didn’t catch a touchdown against Buffalo; Mahomes was not his quarterback that day. If cornerback Tre’Davious White were healthy, this would probably be his assignment. I think it’s going to be a combination of players, including safety Jordan Poyer, linebackers Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds, and cornerback Kaiir Elam covering Kelce. Whoever is locked up with the stud tight end will need to be on point this week.
DE Frank Clark
The Chiefs have a pair of wrecking balls on the defensive line, and Clark is the one who lines up outside. His matchup with left tackle Dion Dawkins will be an important one to watch, and actually, I wonder if he’ll end up on right tackle Spencer Brown on the opposite side to discourage Josh Allen from rolling to his right side. Allen is deadly when he escapes the pocket to the right, and putting a fantastic pass rusher like Clark on that side could be helpful. Oddly enough, it’s not Clark leading the Chiefs in sacks, but it’s cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, who has three sacks so far. Clark has 1.5 sacks entering the game, and if the Bills can keep him at that number exiting the contest as well, then they’ll be in great shape.
DT Chris Jones
Perhaps the biggest matchup for Buffalo this week is the interior offensive line versus Jones. The inside trio of left guard Rodger Saffold, center Mitch Morse, and right guard Ryan Bates have been putrid in run blocking and just fine pass blocking—though there have been plenty of instances where strong defensive tackles have collapsed the pocket and batted passes at the line of scrimmage. Allen has been fortunate that none of those batted balls have resulted in interceptions, but all it takes is a wayward bounce to change the outcome of a game versus an elite squad. Jones has two pass breakups to go with his two sacks and four tackles for a loss on the year. Making sure to engage him early and keep him from raising those big arms will keep Allen’s passing lanes clear. Making him move laterally with some stretch runs will lessen his effectiveness, too, and will also take some of his energy if he has to chase all game long. Controlling Jones will help the Bills control the game, so there will be a lot of pressure on the interior offensive line this week.